“This is a great house. It’s barely even haunted.” This is one of the first things I say to my new neighbor, a thirty year old man whom I had never met before and was now staring at me questioningly. Possibly thinking, “who is this teenage girl in my home? Why is she here, and why is she talking about ghosts?” His wife, who has met my mother (which frankly, could mean anything) laughs a little. My mom had talked me into “being neighborly” and walking over there with her, which is really more her area than mine, for reasons that I think are obvious. No one says anything, so I try to explain.
“It really is a great house. Only one family lived here before you. They’re still alive and were really happy here.” After I’ve said it, I’m not sure why it matters. But it’s something I would have liked to know about my new house. I like the idea of something I own having a happy past. Our house, that we moved into twelve years before, really didn’t. I don’t believe in ghosts. But I also don’t not believe in ghosts. I like to think this makes me open-minded, not gullible, but think what you will. I’m not going to be the skeptic in the circle.
The family before us wasn’t happy. From what I understand, the father wasn’t a nice man, one son had issues with mental illness, and someone had died in the house. The mother and the son were the only ones living there when my parents bought the house. The mother had painted every room a vibrant shade of 1980’s pink, aside from the rooms that were bright blue, in what was probably an attempt to reclaim the house for herself. But it didn’t do much to make it look cheerful. The house hadn’t been maintained, the newest features were the security measures. That place was on lockdown.
My sister and I were scared of the basement stairs. My mother took issue with a certain closet. A neighbor, who has since passed away, came over one day to pray over the house. She and my mother walked around praying and rebuking whatever lived in that closet in the name of Jesus. Workmen got hurt. People fell down the basement stairs more than was statistically likely. And, on a personal note, I found a cockroach in my popcorn bowl.
What was an ordeal for my mother, was a game for me. After the first night, I stopped seeing the dead eyes of the plastic “Rudolph” that had been stored in my room where a desk lamp now stood, plugged into the wall as a temporary light fixture. I learned not to walk around inside without shoes after the first few times of experiencing the sick crunch of a roach under my bare foot, and watched my step on the stairs. I killed roaches and brought them to science class in jars. I named the ladybugs that collected near my toybox, and prayed at the thing on the stairs. I pictured an angry spirit being tortured by the power of my sunday-school words as I lay with my back leaning up against the carpeted ridges of the steps. Cardboard boxes became forts as I watched everyone else do the hard work.
I was glad this family didn’t have the “ghosts” that we did, but it’s a gamble I know I’ll take one day. Construction costs are insane right now, and even though I know they’ll eventually come down, I think I’ll always feel like I’m getting a bad deal. I think I’ve been conditioned to like character. I’ll walk through my neighborhood and see the new developments that look fresh out a box, with no soul or character, and I can’t picture moving into one of them. Where’s the challenge?